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Riding for the brand.

When I was growing up in Wyoming, I really admired the cowboys. And I definitely wanted to grow up to be one. I think most kids did. It didn't hurt that this was back in the days of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, when every kid thought riding a horse and battling the bad guys was the best job anyone could ever have.

Of course, if you got close to the real cowboys, you'd hear some pretty rough language sometimes, and learn some lessons your Mother wished you hadn't. Not to mention hearing muttering and grousing in the bunk house at the end of the day about how somebody disagreed with the trail boss.

Every cowboy always thought he knew better than the trail boss.

But in spite of that, each and every morning, everyone saddled up and worked together to get the herd where they needed to be that day. No matter what their differences, no matter their disagreements on the trail, the cowboys ultimately trusted and respected the outfit they rode for. They took pride in it, and in their work. So they put their differences aside to get the job done. They had a unity of purpose. And they called it "riding for the brand."

In these days of growing political discord, economic struggles and continuous news coverage, we see almost nothing but disagreement. You can't turn on a television these days without coming across someone yelling, fighting or carrying on. And these disagreements aren't nice and civil, either. They used to be, but these days, they can get downright ugly, with language and gestures that might make the cowboys of my youth blush. Even the respected network news programs do it, yelling and name-calling and pointing fingers, challenging all those who dare to disagree with them. We have entered an era of "us" vs. "them."

So maybe it's no surprise that we come to think that this is the way things should be--that we should fight for our opinions and do whatever it takes to get what we want or need, no matter what the cost.

But is that a good thing? Is it even effective? Is it what we should be doing as leaders?

As cooperative leaders, I think we need to ask ourselves whether fighting for our way, our beliefs and our agenda is really in the best interests of the cooperatives we serve. Or whether we might just be better off to come together and make a compromise so that all our fellow cooperatives might be able to move forward together in a slightly different direction that will ultimately benefit everyone. I might not be totally happy, and my neighbor might not be totally happy, but at the end of the day, we got to a better place, and we got there together. We "rode for the brand."

In these times when the issues are complex and the answers are not so simple as they once were, this can be a serious challenge. And it shows. Because today, we are really struggling to find that common ground. Struggling to find that unity of purpose that we once had. That held us together and made us strong.

A lawyer friend of mine once told me that the most important lesson he learned in law school was that "reasonable minds can differ." We can look at the same issue, and all reach different conclusions. It doesn't mean one person is right and the others are all wrong. It just means that we've all just come to different conclusions based upon our unique backgrounds, experiences and points of view. And isn't that the truth?

Our reasonable minds do differ. We all have different positions and opinions. But as an association, we can only truly be effective when we speak with one, unified voice, unimpeded by the weighty baggage of dissent. Because when we are divided, others know it. And they will take any opportunity they can get to exploit that divide. And when they do, we lose. So we must respect the differences we have, and then leave them behind.

I'm not one for throwing quotes around. That's just not who I am. But I think Abraham Lincoln really hit the nail on the head when he said "A house divided unto itself cannot stand." indeed, it is our collective responsibility to firmly stand behind our decisions, rather than going in different directions or deciding to "do our own thing." It's consistent with good governance, and it's consistent with good management.

Of course, this will not be easy. There will be struggles ahead, and I think we all know that. Throughout our 75 year history, there have always been challenges. But today, there are bad guys to battle. And we don't have the Lone Ranger and Tonto to save the day. So we must put our differences aside, stand together with one voice and "ride for the brand." If we do that, we will not fail.

We might not get everything we want. And we will probably disagree with the trail boss every once in a while. But we will not fail. We will move forward, and we will move forward together.

And that, my friends, is what leadership is really all about.

F.E. "Wally" Wolski is the President of NRECA, with a distinguished history of service to America's electric cooperatives. He was elected to the board of directors of Wyrulec Company in southeastern Wyoming in 1987 and represented his state on the NRECA Board since 1999. He also currently serves as a director on both Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. He is a past President of the Wyoming Rural Electric Association, has been a director on Wyoming Rural Telecommunications Cooperative and the chairman of Wyoming ACRE. Wolski lives on a 200 acre family farm with enhanced migratory waterfowl and upland bird hunting. He is an insurance agent, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, a husband of nearly 33 years, the father of two daughters, and actively involved in his local community.
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Title Annotation:Leadership Corner
Author:Wolski, F.E. "Wally"
Publication:Management Quarterly
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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